(I just posted this over on Most Eligible Family, but it's relevant here too, I think...)
I'll be the first to admit I have a lot of fears in life. Fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of getting old. I'm also a firm believer in facing your fears, because even if it doesn't rid you of that fear entirely, it helps you grow as a person, or at the very least understand your fear a little better.
Some fears are easy to face. Public speaking? Take a class, or go to CLO training, where they will force you to speak in front of your fellow CLOs whether you like or not. Heights? Cross the balance beam at the playground chanting "I think I can" over and over (okay, maybe that was just a seven-year-old me, and I can't say it rid me of my fear. But it did feel like a big accomplishment at the time). Some fears you can't help facing, try as you might. No amount of anti-wrinkle cream or plastic surgery is going to stop you from aging, sadly. I had no choice in facing my fear of being alone when John deployed the second time. The good news there was I actually did conquer my fear, and I gained so much in the process (not that I recommend forced separations or anything, but it worked for me). And my fear of failure? That mostly comes down to my writing, and I face that fear every time I start another novel after shelving the last one, every time I receive a rejection letter or don't get a request in a contest, every time I come this close to giving up - and don't.
So, what does this post have to do with the Foreign Service, you might be wondering. Well, aside from the fact that I was seriously afraid of moving to Russia (for what I'm pretty sure are obvious reasons), I also have a fear of people. I've never written this in public before, but I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder when I was nineteen. It was something I had recognized for years - speaking in front of the class, participating in team sports, even walking across the quad at school were all incredibly stressful - but I didn't know there was a name for it until then. I took medication for it for a long time, and I avoided situations that put me in contact with strangers. I wasn't a joiner, or if I did decide to participate in something - like a book club - it took serious strength to get to that first meeting, to overcome my fear that people wouldn't accept or like me. Sometimes the anxiety it caused didn't seem worth the effort.
But, eventually, I learned to face my fear. I took the job as CLO because I knew it would force me out of my shell, to be friendly to people I didn't know, to put me in situations I found unbearably uncomfortable so I'd learn how to bear them. I mentioned my anxiety to a few people at CLO training, and they all seemed surprised to hear it. Sometimes I try to mask my anxiety by faking it - acting outgoing and extroverted, even though I am neither of those things - and apparently I've gotten pretty good at it. The amazing thing is, it works. Despite how uncomfortable I may be at first, once I get to know people, I really am friendly! I like being social, even though it is my phobia. It's weird, but then, I'M weird.
I was invited to an English club here in Yekat a while ago, but I didn't go. I was - you guessed it - afraid. Then we went to a bird sanctuary last week, and I met a really nice French girl who told me she goes to the English club, and I decided to give it a shot. It required taking public transportation, alone, to a part of the city I'd never been to before (I realize this is small potatoes or a non-issue to most people; it's seriously stress inducing for me) and hanging out with strangers for a couple of hours. And it was really fun! I think I may have even made a friend, something I'm seriously lacking here in Russia.
I know that I'll never get over this fear. It's a part of me, probably deeply ingrained from being a twin and always having someone with whom I could - and still can - retreat into a private world that was utterly safe. But just like I won't give up on writing, I won't give up on facing my social anxiety. Little by little, it gets easier (never easy, but easier). And in the end, facing your fears, no matter how small, is always worth the effort.